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Who by Life and Who by Death

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Jewish thought and teachings inspire us to look at the world differently, maybe more upright or maybe completely “upside down” from what may appear to be.

Concepts like death and departure may be deemed tragic and hopeless, serving as just another reminder how insignificant our lives may be on Earth. However, Torah spirituality reminds us that the presence of a person does not solely rely on the potency of their physical impact, but rather the lingering scent of their essence. We learn this ideal specifically when memorializing righteous individuals of Bnei Yisrael that have passed on.

Instead of their impact fading over the years, their inscription upon the world regenerates like the DNA strand it is for generations to come. I like to imagine the impact of our holy Tzadikim and Tzadikot as a cracked egg over the world, its rich substance saturating the universe, thus adding another layer of G!dly vision.

Specifically demonstrated by many Chassidic masters, but even psychologists and gurus alike–teachers can be extremely “ahead of their time.” Therefore it is only after their death that their effect can seep through the fracture the world experienced with their physical departure. The beauty of Torah, is that of the timeless, healing wisdom proven to be prevalent through modern tumult and turmoil.

I once heard someone speak about the death of their mother, and how they recognized each step of her physical deterioration as an opening and exodus for the infinite soul within. Her dying mother’s existence no longer relied on food, drink or money—she could be the most content in her soul’s expansiveness.

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Ha’azinu, Moshe physically and mentally prepares for his departure from this world. He ascends to Har Avarim, the mountain G!d instructs him to lay to rest as his final physical place of leadership. From this place, this מקום, Moshe will watch Bnei Yisrael embark on what will be there forever journey.

There is a question that the Berdichetver Rebbe brings up in his analysis of Ha’azinu, as to why the only form of exile Bnei Yisrael would know is mass expulsion throughout the entire world, as opposed to being exiled from their homeland together, in a foreign land. Why specifically has the Jewish identity been so far stretched from the corners of the world?

To this I think we find an answer in the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers. ונתנה תוקף – a daunting prayer sung by congregations throughout the world during this time that essentially reminds us that G!d decides who will live and die in the upcoming year. There is the recognition as well, that everything happens with divine design, that even our cause of death can be decided a year before it occurs–as per the text, “Who will reach the ripeness of age, or who will be taken before their time….Who by water…Who by drought…” While a very intimidating song to sing, there is also the power of this exact notion; it is our song to sing.

I’d like to suggest an alternative way of looking at these lines and therefore how to confront the depths of unknown that is our life. Yes, death–when and how may be decided by G!d, but the gift of free will destines us to choose when and how to live. Will we live like water, fluid and consistent? Will we live by drought, never satisfied or satiated with higher purpose?

So when we approach the notion of departure and separation, it is our deepest call to be ourselves and expand our inner G!dliness. To know ourselves enough that we can be a stranger to the strange land, so that our exile can be only the catalyst to our exodus.

Kedushat HaLevi (Berditchever Rebbe) answers his question that the reason of why Bnei Yisrael had been exiled to various continents and cultures was with the deepest purpose to uncover more subtle expressions of G!dliness.

If we believe death serves as an opportune platform for the soul’s effect, we must believe therefore, in the overwhelming ripple effect of our presence in and with life.

To be contributing, soul-conscious collaborators in our life not only for ourselves, but for those around us as well.

Shabbat Shalom

L’Chayim!

About the Author
Edan is currently studying for a degree in English and Torah education. Since making Aliyah in 2020, she hopes to share some of the wisdom and insight she has been blessed to have witnessed and heard, as well as try to articulate and pass on moments that were most impactful for her. Edan believes in using the power of words to silence our fears, worries and doubts in order to hear our inner truths of clarity, faith and hope. Through some poetry, Torah and anecdote, she is praying to illuminate the lights that already exist in all of us.
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